Stop what you're doing right now and read this brilliant and hilarious defense systems analysis of the original Star Wars movies brought to you by the engineers at Raytheon. Really, go ahead and read it. It's short and I'll wait.
Okay, now that you've read it I don't think I have to explain why it's hilarious. But it's brilliant not only because it mines the expertise of thousands of Raytheon workers and finds a way to advertise some of the companies most interesting products, but also because it's a fantastic example of how to win the public relations game today. Oh, and it's also another example of how the information monopoly enjoyed by traditional news media companies is crumbling a little more each day.
The idea of "piggybacking" on a big story or super hot trend like the opening of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens movie is nothing new in the public relations game. But in the past, companies or organizations looking to ride a wave like Star Wars had to put together some ideas, or offer up an expert guest, and then just hope their angle or expert would get coverage in a newspaper or on a TV network. Actually at CNBC, we still get dozens of emails a day pitching ideas and guests in just that way. A typical day will present me and my fellow producers with 30-40 emails that go something like: "If you're covering story X, have we got the guest for you, etc."
I shouldn't have to say it, but it should be obvious that this approach is a real waste of time and money for the companies themselves and the PR firms they employ. About 99% of those emails and calls are immediately deleted or erased on voice mail. Most of the messages we do read or listen to, we still never follow up on. And even if everything goes right and an individual news program does end up booking that guest, there's a real chance things will not go as the person or group pitching the story hoped. We can fail to adequately identify your guest or organization. The segment can go extremely short without any real recognition by the viewer of your message or expert. And worst of all but no too uncommon, your guest or organization can intentionally or accidentally be made to look very bad as the televised or published story plays out.
That's what makes the Raytheon story so smart. Instead of begging the old news media to pick up its story, it simply ran it itself on its own website. It had the guts to keep it in laymen's terms to set it apart from the more technical content usually found on its site to get it to a new audience. And Raytheon kept the story short which is an essential ingredient to maximize sharing and social media allure. It's possible Raytheon just stumbled on all these factors by accident, but I doubt it.
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More and more companies are figuring this out. The key is finding a way to bypass the virtual duopoly power Google and Apple have over what most of us are likely to see and share on the web. One of the companies doing this on a grand scale is Marriott, which has found a way to bypass the news and entertainment media all at once by launching, "M Live," its own online and TV content-making studio late last year. Marriott is now producing everything from instant promotional campaigns to short dramatic series all from a state of the art control room and studio in Bethesda, Maryland. Marriott even hired two top people from Disney Studios to run the operation.
Granted, the Marriott model is not something even a lot of large corporations can totally emulate or would even want to do. But smaller versions of M Live, with in house produced and distributed content, are attractive options for a lot of Fortune 500 companies. And smaller businesses can certainly afford to spruce up their websites and get their messages out there in the best way possible without relying on old school "media contacts." You just don't need to own a newspaper or a TV network anymore to get your message out there exactly the way you want it. All you need are some good writers, good programmers, and something to say.